TRAVELERS' CHECK New airport spells trouble for Harrison

It's been a good year at the Boone County Regional Airport in Harrison, but a $113 million project just up U.S.

65 looms as trouble for the future.

Construction started in the summer on the new Branson Regional Airport, which is closer to the Missouri tourist town than the Arkansas airport.

"We're very concerned about it," said Judy McCutcheon, the manager of the Boone County airport. "That airport will affect us as much as any airport around." Air Midwest serves Harrison, and about 20 percent of the passengers arriving on flights from Kansas City, Mo., and Dallas/Fort Worth go to Branson.

Losing those passengers would be a setback for the Arkansas airport, which is 30 miles from Branson, but it's the potential loss of private jet traffic that worries McCutcheon.

Pilots and their passengers land in Harrison, rent cars from Hertz and head north to Branson. About 80 percent of the jets arriving in Harrison land there because it's the airport closest to Branson - for now.

The new airport is one impressive, private project on paper and on the Web at www.bransonair.net.

It's 10 miles from Branson and is set to open in May 2009, but don't tell the folks in Boone County that it's running a bit ahead of schedule because it'll upset them. The Harrison airport will become the second-closest commercial airport to Branson.

The new airport's 7,140-foot runway will be long enough for private jets and most planes used by airlines.

Jeff Bourk, the executive director of Branson Airport LLC, sounds as if a low-cost carrier is waiting in the wings. Something will be announced next year, he said. Airlines prefer to wait until it's closer to time to sell the tickets to make new service announcements, he said.

"We've got low-cost carriers we're talking to," Bourk said.

Boone County Judge Mike Moore sees an upside to a Branson airport, despite the financial harm it could bring to the county's airport.

"It's going to give the Boone County citizens a chance to get on a major airline closer to home," Moore said.

No offense intended, Air Midwest.

The private airport will receive no federal funding, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Elizabeth Cory. Branson will pay the airport $8.24 for every passenger who arrives, said Jerry Adams, a city spokesman.

The Guru talked to airport folks elsewhere who think it might not lure an airline at all, let alone a low-cost carrier. A few-flights-a-week, seasonal charter service from major hubs to Branson seems more likely, they said.

Branson, after all, is a driving destination, but it's also a place where the nearest major airport is Springfield-Branson National Airport, which is 50 miles away on the north end of Springfield, Mo.

"The airlines have been shrinking everything they do," said Kent Boyd, marketing director for the Springfield airport, which added the word "Branson" in 1994. "For me to imagine that an unproven market like Branson is going to land major service sounds like a pipe dream." Robert J. Smith's column about people on the move in Northwest Arkansas appears each Monday. He can be reached at rsmith@arkansasonline.com This article was published 11/12/2007


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